Scattered around a string of sheltered sandy coves and grassy cliff-tops, DURNESS is the most northwesterly village on the British mainland. It straddles the turning point on the main A838 road as it swings east from the inland peat bogs of the interior to the north coast’s fertile strip of limestone machair. Durness village sits above its own sandy bay, Sango Sands, while half a mile to the east is SMOO, formerly a RAF station. In between Durness and Smoo is the village hall, whose windblown and rather forlorn community garden harbours a memorial commemorating the Beatle John Lennon, who used to come to Durness on family holidays as a child (and revisited the place in the 1960s with Yoko). It’s worth pausing at Smoo to see the 200ft-long Smoo Cave, a gaping hole in a sheer limestone cliff formed partly by the action of the sea and partly by the small burn that flows through it.
An excellent day-trip begins two miles southwest of Durness at KEOLDALE, where (tides and MOD permitting) a foot-passenger ferry crosses the spectacular Kyle of Durness estuary to link with a minibus that runs the eleven miles out to Cape Wrath, mainland Britain’s most northwesterly point. Note that Garvie Island (An Garbh-eilean) is an air bombing range, and the military regularly close the road to Cape Wrath. The headland takes its name not from the stormy seas that crash against it for most of the year, but from the Norse word hvarf, meaning “turning place” – a throwback to the days when Viking warships used it as a navigation point during raids on the Scottish coast.